John Davies gives his first Christmas and New Year Message as NFU Cymru President
Christmas is often a time when we reflect on the year gone by and the New Year is a time to plan and look forward to the next 12 months.
It has been a year when, at times, it has been hard to draw breath. Let us hope that the relative calm of the Christmas period will give our politicians the time to reflect on the events of 2018, and consider the role that they can play in 2019 to more positively influence decisions made in Westminster and the Senedd. Those decisions will undoubtedly shape the face of farming and rural Wales for generations to come.
It gives me no pleasure to say this, but as I write this message Welsh farming is staring into the abyss of a ‘No deal’ Brexit - a Brexit that would see our food and drink industry, in effect, locked out of our largest and closest export market. I urge all parties and factions to come together in the best interests of our country to secure the continued free and frictionless trade that our £7 billion food and drink industry needs to continue to grow, both in terms of value and jobs to Wales.
Whilst we continue to hope that our Government and Parliament in Westminster will be able to navigate their way to a deal with the EU that delivers our key trade asks, if that is not achievable then all other options that avoid a catastrophic no deal scenario must be actively considered. It will be a dereliction of duty by our politicians if they simply allow the clock to run down to a ‘No deal’ Brexit.
Farmers in their thousands have made their views known on the Welsh Government’s proposals for a post-Brexit agriculture policy for Wales. I would like to thank every farmer, rural business and members of our rural communities who have taken the time to positively engage in this consultation, and I sincerely hope that Government will listen to our collective voice.
A future policy must have food production at its core, supporting the people, families and businesses that take the financial and business risks associated with producing food; a truly integrated and sustainable agriculture programme that delivers economically, environmentally, socially and culturally for Wales. We need a policy that will underpin the development of ‘Brand Wales’, a brand to help market and promote Wales to the world on the basis of high quality food production underpinned by a strong natural asset base.
I was delighted that earlier this year a poll of Welsh consumers showed their unequivocal support for the role that Welsh farmers play in producing safe, high quality and traceable food for the nation, as well as indicating their belief that future policy should reward farmers for continuing to provide this. As farmers we do not take this support for granted.
For nearly half a century the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has provided the stability that the industry has needed to ensure a secure supply of safe, high quality, traceable and affordable food valued by the consumer. The CAP currently supports a Welsh agricultural industry that employs over 50,000 people on farms and has a gross output of nearly £1.6 billion.
It seems to me that Welsh Government, in its criticism of the CAP, forgets the importance of the CAP in underpinning the regular and affordable supply of food to the consumer. I believe Welsh Government has overlooked this important role of the CAP and how prone food supply chains are to political instability, protectionism, trade bans and weather extremes across the globe. The CAP has delivered, providing a level of stability to farming businesses to cope with shocks that are completely outside a farmer’s control and this in turn has ensured continuity of supply to our food processors and, ultimately, the consumer.
No farmer would say the CAP is perfect; we all accept the need for further change and evolution of policy. But what we must do is ensure that we build on the stable base that we have and design a new policy for Wales that meets our ambition for the further sustainable growth of our farming businesses, the food supply chain and our rural communities.
We at NFU Cymru want to work with Government and all those who care about Welsh farming, our food, our environment, our landscape, our heritage and culture in genuine partnership to design, develop and implement policies to help achieve our vision of a productive, progressive and profitable agricultural industry.
2019 will see Welsh Government come forward with more detailed policy proposals. I sincerely hope that they will have listened to the concerns of rural Wales and, furthermore, that they will fully engage with the industry in developing these proposals and work with us to develop a fully integrated policy from farm to fork.
We need a policy that will enable us to maximise the potential for further growth in UK markets, taking forward opportunities that may arise in overseas markets and increasing the proportion of Welsh food procured by our schools, hospitals and government institutions.
Despite the huge challenges that the next few months will bring, it has never been more important that we all work together to deliver on our ambition for growth.
Nadolig Llawen a Blwyddyn Newydd Dda.